I climb out of my car, grab my book and head toward my friend’s door. A knock later, I am embracing my book club buddies, exchanging stories and catching up on life. We’ve had this ritual for several years. We gather together once a month and cook for one another, discuss our book and reflect on the writing. By the end of the evening, I’ve listened and learned. And I always look forward to the next meeting.

It isn’t news that I love reading books and enjoy discussing them with friends. For the last twenty years, I’ve participated in several books clubs. Some have worked well and others faded into the periphery. It’s easy to start a book club, but what’s the secret in maintaining them? In the past, I mourned the loss of some of my book clubs, but now I’ve accepted that it takes a special camaraderie and willingness for these meetings to endure.

In my experience, here are the factors that fuel a successful and enduring book club:

  1. Read the book. This might sound like common sense, but in book clubs that have failed, people asked the question, “Do I have to read the novel?”  For a book club to be successful, participants must be interested in reading the book.
  2. Let everyone take part in the conversation. I’ve witnessed book club conversations where one person dominates the entire evening. This doesn’t bode well for discussion. If a moderator is in place, it helps to facilitate an even conversation, otherwise, the discussion is heavily tipped in one direction.
  3. Select books for the calendar year. In my current book club, I collect 3-4 recommendations from each book club member at the end of the year, input each choice and send out a survey. The books for the year are chosen based on a vote. This process allows each member to recommend and vote on the selections. We don’t waste book club meeting time to pick our books.
  4. A smaller book club facilitates a more meaningful discussion. I’ve participated in book clubs were there are 10 or more members and it doesn’t always lead to a fruitful discussion. I like book clubs where members are able to contribute a point and other members can exchange insights on specific perspective.
  5. Make it a commitment. My book club decides on a date that works for all of us. We end our evening by looking at the calendar and picking a specific date. We take this commitment seriously and make every effort to attend.
  6. Keep rotating hosts. Having the discussion at a person’s home is the most comfortable setting for a book club. In order to share the responsibility of hosting, we rotate our book club meetings at each person’s house in a specific order.
  7. Come up with questions beforehand. Each member brings 3-4 questions to our book club discussions. Review questions are easy to find on the web and as you are reading you can underline a few passages you want to discuss.
  8. Celebrate at the end of the year. Our book club celebrates the holiday season at the end of the year. We pick a local tea room for our meeting, exchange small presents and discuss a “lighter” book.

Do you participate in book clubs? What works for you?

Image: Open book test. Get the point? by George Thomas via Flickr.